When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are…
— From Pinnochio
Walt Disney took an original folk tale about a “bad boy” who endures humiliating experiences in order to correct his behaviour and turned it into the beloved version we know today. Probably a good thing since the original tale has Pinnochio suffering a rather gruelling life and an ignominious ending. If he wished upon a star it didn’t work. He’s executed by hanging.
A recent experience with wishing didn’t end as badly for me. But I did learn a thing or two about the psychological costs of wishing for a particular outcome.
We are selling our home at the time of this writing. We’re of course looking for a quick and trouble free sale. But I found myself wishing nearly every waking moment that an email would come from our realtor telling us that we had one (or ideally) multiple offers coming in. I was checking my iPhone every 10 minutes.
This desire to control, not only outcomes, but the process by which the outcome manifests is insane. At bottom it’s fear of death. Sorry to take you there so abruptly, but all anxiety about the future is really a death phobia. Death is the ultimate reminder that we are not in control. This was reinforced by an article I read just after buying a new property somewhat closer to the ocean. It was very convincing research that the “big one” is coming to the West Coast. It’s not a question of if, but when, and it turns out that we’re overdue. I began to consult topographical charts to determine how far above sea level our new home would be.
Then I read a book by a scholar who was critical of evolutionary theory, referring to it as little more than a secular narrative that is not a lot different than the fundamentalist narrative of creationism. What got me was his evidence that our planet has been struck repeatedly by comets which pretty much wiped out everything. So, you still think you’re in control Bruce?
Reading these pieces gave me some perspective on my desire to control the universe, at least my little corner of the galaxy. The potent mix of my denial of death, the belief that I both can and need to control outcomes, along with the magical belief that the more I wish that something would be different from how it actually is, combined to make a cocktail of anxiety.
It’s one thing to know what you want. Nothing wrong there. There’s nothing wrong even with imagining an outcome and then letting it go. But it’s another to spend one’s precious life chronically wishing for things to go a certain way. This effectively robs us of the present. I got so fixated on gnawing away at my preferred outcome, that I lost interest in everything else. Buddhists teach that this attachment to outcomes is the root of suffering. The only thing that could possibly alleviate my suffering was if things went my way and the calls started pouring in. Sheer madness.
So yesterday I made it a practice to not wish for anything, all day. If you think it’s easy, try it sometime. I have to say though it was a huge relief. I was suddenly interested in conversation with my wife. I noticed the feel of the breeze walking my dog in the forest. My mind expanded to let the universe in again.
It boils down to trust. Not trust that things will go our way. But trust that whatever happens, we are resourced to adapt. Resilience is a built in feature of the universe. It’s also about trusting that if we are following our soul path, things will unfold as they need to, which doesn’t mean as we think they should. Typically, the part of us that is attached to outcomes, the willful self, is our survivalist. This part of us got us through trauma and will not easily stand down in the face of new challenges. He or she is summoned up by every new stressful situation with a tried and true strategic plan for survival. This usually involves engineering the future (going into control overdrive), or collapsing into passivity and depression. Our survivor self learned early and often not to trust.
There is another, truer self that is aligned with nature and Reality. Our essential self trusts the great unfolding. At the core of this trust is a knowing that we are that great unfolding, localized as us. We are not separate from that which is living us moment by moment, and whatever that mystery is that is living us, and showing up as us, knows what it is doing. Our only job is to align with the frequency of the big thing. I’m not saying it’s easy. Our fearful survivalist will needs some coaxing to stand down.